Monday, February 13, 2012

THE AVENGER


A screech of brakes followed the shriek of tires on the tarmac. Simultaneously, there followed the sound of crunching metal and the tingling of broken glass.
            From the threshold of a grocery store, Christine Asiimwe stood dumbfounded by the scene before her. A dark Mercedes Benz had stopped in the middle of the road and bullets had sprayed out of its side window. They broke through the glass of the store. On turning around, Christine noticed that the target was her father who was paying for some fruits.
            When she thought of getting the car’s registration number, she realized that the number plates were caked in mud. And before she could think straight, the car sped away into thin air.
            Christine ran to her father’s side and knelt beside him.
            “Father.”
            Cradling her father’s head in her laps, she checked for a pulse but found none.
            “Father, please don’t die.”
            No sign of life.
            Her dress got soaked in her father’s blood.
            “Father!”
            Christine’s father lay in her arms, a pool of blood forming on the tiled floor. His eyes were open but lacked any sign of life. A bullet had lodged in his chest, rupturing a lung.

It was cloudy and threatening to rain as the remains of Christine’s father were lowered in the grave. Christine had a feeling of déjà vu as she watched from a distance. Her mother was very hysterical. She would have fallen in the grave if it were not for strong hands which held her back.
            Pastor Patrick Mugarura presided over the service. He was not as composed as he always was, delivering his morning sermon every Sunday. Christine noted the trembling of his hands as they held his Bible. Pastor Patrick looked shaken and scared.
            Christine knew that not everyone was buried in the churchyard. It was a reserve for the few devout church members, like her father. Christine’s father was an associate pastor and the head of the Counselling department at church. However, he was more popular in religious circles and the media for fighting against homosexuality.
            Christine looked around. Indeed, one’s popularity is seen at their funeral, she thought. Two marquees had been set up to contain the masses, but in vain. Most of the cars had to be parked away from the church’s premises and the Police were employed to direct the traffic flow.
            Before Pastor Patrick said the last benediction, there was a zigzag flash of lightning, followed by a clap of thunder. Then rain fell in large torrents.
            Christine remembered her father telling her that rain was a blessing from God, but for it to rain on his funeral was far from a blessing. Funerals for saints are meant to be bright and peaceful, Christine thought. She was compelled to doubt his devoted and immaculate life, but who was she to judge him? His work in the fight against homosexuality was commendable. Christine did not think that her father deserved to be rewarded with rainfall – heavy rainfall – on his funeral.
            Now Pastor Patrick’s voice was competing with the rain and the gushing wind.
            Christine pitied the pastor. This was a personal loss to him too, and now he had to wear a confident countenance if he was going to be a comfort to the people. His voice got strained to its limits to counter the rain.

            The rain drummed on the corrugated iron roof. The wind hissed as it beat against the closed windows.
            Coldness seeped into Christine’s bones and made her shudder.
            Tonight was a nightmare. It could not, however, be compared to the night she had received the news of her brother’s death. She had cried her eyes out and had not allowed anyone to comfort her. What had made it worse was the fact that she was in the UK studying journalism and could not come home for the funeral.
            Today, she could not sleep. She could see her father everywhere, even when she closed her eyes. Deep within her, she thought something terrible was about to happen. It was the same feeling she had had earlier in the day before it had rained.
            Christine’s mother had drank too much whisky and passed out in the kitchen. That is where she had left her. At least the alcohol had stopped her outbursts of a mixture of anger, sorrow and remorse.
            Christine didn’t remember seeing her parents drinking. In fact, they preached against it anytime they got the chance. Something had surely changed while she was away.
            Something fell in the kitchen. Christine was sure she had heard the crashing of glass and the clang of metal on the floor. A feeling of déjà vu swept over her again.

Christine’s mother had not recovered from the fact that her husband had been murdered in cold blood. Although the sun was up and shining already, it did not offer any comfort as Christine and her mother walked to the churchyard to see where their loved one had been laid to rest.
            Walking with a bowed head and a stoop Christine’s mother looked a decade older than she really was.
            Christine moved closer to her mother and slipped her arm around her. They had never been close from the time she had moved out of the house and renounced her Christianity. Her mother had said that she was of the devil but Christine didn’t give a rip. Some people, like her boyfriend, Jeff, were far better than the Christians she knew.
            The sun stole its way through the dense canopy of trees which lined both sides of the avenue that led to Deliverance Church. As Christine and her mother walked the vast lawns of the church, they greeted Brother James, who was mowing the lawn with a noisy lawnmower. He offered his heartfelt condolences without switching off the lawnmower, oblivious to the fact that Christine’s mother had a hearing impairment. They entered the churchyard through a small wrought iron gate that was never locked.
An acrid odour hit them on entering the churchyard. Dread gripped Christine’s heart. It started beating faster and louder. She felt nauseated.
And then she saw.
            Right before her unbelieving eyes was her father.
            Exhumed!
            The corpse was lying on its belly, naked. The neck had been twisted so that the face would look up at whoever beheld it with a deathly stare.  
            Someone had cut slits all over the pale body like they were spray painting graffiti. Two milky craters, streaked with spider webs of dark, clotted blood, were in place of what were supposed to be eyes.
            Christine’s hand reached out and cupped her mouth to muffle the cry that was rising up her throat. Her heart raced. Her mind went blank.
            Her legs turned to jelly. She dropped to her knees. That is when she saw the stake.
            It was driven right through her father’s rear end into the ground.
            Christine shrieked.
            Her mother, who had been standing motionless, now collapsed and lost consciousness.

Christine closed her journal. She stood up and looked into her mother’s face. It was pale and expressionless. The lines on her brow stretched further and deeper on her forehead. Crow’s feet were etched deeply at the corners of her tightly closed eyes. She looked like she was in a fitful sleep.
            Christine was not as shaken by the incident that morning as her mother had been. In her was an energy that seeped through her veins which she could not account for. She was too shocked to have any feelings whatsoever.
            Even as she watched her mother struggle with a minor heart attack, she could not help but wonder what kind of monster could do such a thing to her father
            After seeing the ghastly incident that morning in the churchyard, she had run to the church’s vestry which acted as Pastor Patrick Mugarura’s office, knocking over Brother James in the process. She told him what had happened and he called the police before running out to witness for himself. The police took away the mutilated body of Christine’s father with all the evidence they could collect from the crime scene. Christine watched as her mother was driven away in an ambulance. Pastor Mugarura drove her to the hospital where he prayed for them before leaving to attend to his sermon for the next day.
            Christine started pacing the length of the room. It was four days since her father had been murdered. She’d seen him being shot but could not believe that she would never see him again. Digging into the pocket of her jeans, she got out an old picture of her family. It had her father on the right, her mother on the left, and her and Peter in the middle.
            Peter.
            He had been killed two years ago in a fatal road accident that had crushed his body beyond recognition.
            Now in the private room where her mother had been transferred to recuperate, the reality hit Christine. Two of her family members were dead, and the last one lay a few inches away from her, fighting for her life.
            Tears coursed down Christine’s cheeks anew. She sank into a chair and cradled her head in her hands.
            A doctor entered the room and Christine stood up. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and, with a deep breath, she tried to compose herself.
            The doctor looked at her with a frown on his face through moon-shaped wire-rimmed spectacles. He had a greying, bushy moustache and a receding hairline.
            Christine had a lump in her throat and she could not say a word. The doctor went and hovered over Christine’s mother.
            When he got out an injection filled with a clear liquid from the pocket of his white coat, Christine winced. “Will my mother live?” she asked.
            “She is responding very well to the medication,” the doctor said. “We might discharge her by tomorrow.” He raised his eyes from Christine’s mother and looked at Christine. His eyes were warm and compassionate as he peered at her over the rims of his spectacles. His face was contorted in a sad grin.
            “I am sorry for what happened,” he said.
            Christine’s eyes were fixed on the doctor’s. The doctor looked away and busied himself with the syringe in his hands.
            He looked familiar.
            Christine would have sworn that he actually looked like her late brother. She reminded herself to keep a clear head; otherwise she was finally losing her sanity, if she saw people and compared them to the dead.
            He turned and held the intravenous infusion bottle hanging above Christine’s mother’s head, jabbed the injection into the half-empty bottle and emptied its contents with a swift, expert motion.
            Christine flinched. “What’s that?”
            “This,” the doctor replied, capping the needle of the injection and dropping it in his coat pocket, “is a drug meant to calm her nerves. As you can see, she looks to be asleep but a lot is going on in her mind. I just want her to forget all that has happened today.”
            Christine was petrified at the significance of the drug. “I don’t want my mother to forget what has happened today.”
            “She will not forget completely,” the doctor explained. “That memory will just be stored too far in her brain for it to cause her distress.”
            Christine nodded although she did not understand him. He sounded reassuring. She went to her mother’s bedside and placed her hand on her forehead. Her temperature had suddenly dropped. She smoothed the deep wrinkles on her face but they folded back when she removed her hand. At least her mother’s fever had gone right away.
            She turned to say thanks to the doctor but he was not there. He had slipped out so quietly that she had not heard him.

In a lift that was ascending to the fourth floor of the hospital building, the doctor shed off his white gown and glasses and put them in a bag. A false moustache and surgical gloves were also stashed away.
            The lift reached the fourth floor and when its doors opened, out of it marched a young man in a tweed jacket with a black bag in his left hand. His sharp eyes searched the busy floor and noticed that no one was watching him.

The man walked stealthily into the master bedroom of the house. He knew, of course, that Mr. and Mrs. Asiimwe were not around, but he was cautious nevertheless. For all he knew, Mrs. Asiimwe had to be dead in an hour or two. It had been easy to kill her. Her husband was the one that had been quite hard to kill. And now the news of his exhumation had spread like a wild fire. The digging up of the corpse had not been in the original plan, but it had the desired effect. He had even given the world a clue as to his motive with the use of a stake. He wanted Asiimwe fully humiliated, even in his death. But he was not worried. He knew how to cover his tracks well. There was a lot you could learn by watching criminal thrillers.
            Now he had to search the house for all diaries, journals, notes and notebooks.
            His experienced eyes looked around the room. A king-sized bed filled the middle of the room. The wall on his left was covered with a floor-to-ceiling built-in wardrobe. In the far corner on his right was a wooden desk with a reading lamp and a stack of books. He had read through all of those books on earlier visits. They were useless to him as they contained only religious mumbo-jumbo. But he would check them out later, just in case they contained a letter or a note,
            He knew that underneath the bed was a metallic box full of old, dusty religious tomes. He also knew that there was at least a bible in every room, with the living room having six bibles, and all of them were of different versions. The room in which he was had three different study bibles, a Strong’s Concordance, a Hebrew Lexicon, an NIV bible dictionary and a Bible commentary.
            The Asiimwes had been buried deep in a layer of religion no one would have discovered their sins.
            It was not his job to expose sin. He was only here make them pay for their sins. They had taught him that the wages of sin is death. And death is what they had gained from their sin.
            He had monitored the Asiimwe family for a year and knew their schedules by heart. This was a well-planned revenge, and nothing would have sabotaged it. He knew the plan for the whole house by heart because he had lived here before. Some other pieces of the puzzle had been easy to put together. Mr. Asiimwe always did his shopping on Tuesdays at the same shop. That had been a ritual every week for the past seven years.
            He had not wanted to kill him in the presence of Christine. That was a mistake that he knew would cost him somehow but right now, what mattered was that the biggest part of the plan was completed.
            Later, after he was through with checking every corner of the house, he sat in the living room and started leafing through his findings. In the one hour he had spent searching the house, he had yielded less than what he had anticipated: two old diaries, birth certificates and a few other documents that were not so important. He had even come across an unfinished manuscript of Monica Asiimwe’s autobiography.
            He had to clear all evidence of ever being associated with this family before. This was very important. Some secrets were best left buried.
            Suddenly he heard the sound of a car engine. Headlights illuminated the living room through the large front windows. Someone was about to find him in the house. Christine, he guessed.
            A revolver appeared in his hand from his waistband. He now knew he might have to kill again, even if he hated going against his plan. That did not bother him, though. He was going to set the house on fire anyway to destroy any evidence he would have missed. Now Christine would also be part of it.
            It would be reported that she was burnt alive in her bed. And the cause of the fire: a gas leak.
            He stood up from the armchair and started looking for the darkest shadow to hide in, gun poised.

Christine got the keys out of the ignition, picked her handbag from the passenger seat and got out of the car. She climbed the porch steps while looking for the front door keys in her handbag.
            Today had been a nightmare. All she needed to do was take a cup of coffee, and later take a long, warm bath. Earlier on, she had received a phone call from her editor, giving her curt condolences and informing her that she was free to take the week off work. She had sensed resentment in his tone of voice, making her wonder why some people had such cold hearts. Of course she had received many messages since Thursday, but her editor’s stood out. She always wondered why he hated her. That gave her the gut to persevere and climb up the media ladder so she could be a boss herself someday.
            Jeff, her boyfriend, did not know anything about what had happened that week. He was in Somalia, covering news on the war there. They could only communicate through email but she had not got enough resolve so far to sit on a computer and type out an email. Moreover, Jeff had more to worry about, like his safety.
            Christine searched for the right key out of a bunch of keys. The moonlight did a poor job of illuminating them. She finally found it and sighed in relief. She slipped it in the lock.
Christine’s mobile phone rang. She got it out of the bag and opened it. The screen showed that it was Samantha calling
            Samantha was an old friend of the Asiimwes’. Christine never knew her last name because everyone from church called her Sister Samantha. She was a nurse and from the time she knew that Christine’s mother was in hospital, she had appointed herself in charge of her. Christine trusted her.
            Christine expected news from Samantha any time, and was ready for the worst, or so, she thought. She answered the phone.
            “You need to come as soon as possible, Christine,” Sister Samantha said before Christine could say a word.
            Christine sensed the urgency in Sister Samantha’s voice. This had to be very serious. ‘I’m on my way.’
            Was Mother okay?
            In no time, Christine was in the car, backing out of the driveway. She did not know why she was driving way past the speed limit. Her instincts drove her.
            She also did not know that she had escaped her own death.

Every inch of his body was tense. He took a deep breath and relaxed. Watching the car back out of the driveway, he shook his head in astonishment. Christine was a lucky girl. But luck was always short-lived. She was next on his shortlist because he knew that her thirst for truth would lead her to the nasty uncovering of what had gotten her parents killed.
            She had just bought herself some time to breathe.
            He collected all the materials he had gathered from all around the house and headed for the kitchen to finish his assignment. He would let the methane saturate the house. It would be a simple explosion.
            Suddenly, a car parked in the front yard.

            Christine got out of the car. All she needed was to get a cardigan from the house and rush back to the hospital. Samantha had insisted that if she were to come back to the hospital, she might need to have something warm on her, as she had to prepare herself for a long night.
            Mother was not fine. Her condition had deteriorated and Christine needed to be there in case the worst happened.
            At least the doctor had convinced her that her mother would be fine. She comforted herself with his assurance.
            With bunch of keys in her hands she approached the door. She pushed the right key in the lock and turned. There was a click. She turned the doorknob.
            And entered.
            The light went on.
            And she stopped.
            In front of her was a man with a gun trained at her.
            Christine’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “Peter?”
            “Take a seat, sister,” Peter said, motioning towards an arm chair with his gun.
            Christine’s legs carried her to the chair and she slumped into it. Her throat was constricted into a knot that she could hardly speak. “You are dead. You are supposed to be dead.”
            “Or so, you thought.” Peter dropped into a chair across from her and dropped the gun in his lap. His eyes remained fixed on her.
            “You were the doctor.” Christine’s words came out like a question.
            Peter nodded his head. His face remained expressionless.
            Christine shut her eyes and massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers. She was losing her mind. Peter had died two years ago in a road accident. Who was this person sitting across from her?
            “You shouldn’t have seen me, Christine. This is not how I wanted our reunion to be. I had to first take care of business. But now that you’re here, I guess you need an explanation.”
            Christine just stared at Peter.
            Peter stood up and walked away from her. He looked out the window as if someone might be watching them from there.
            “Your father got rid of me. I was a black sheep, never wanted.”
            “So the accident was a hoax?”
            Peter turned around and faced her, his eyes downcast. “There was an accident. But I was not in it. I don’t know how he made it.” He shrugged. “All I know is, someone got killed and was buried. Afterwards, Father forced me out of the country. He gave me money to disappear and never come back in his life or his family.”
            “But why?”
            Peter stared at her. Silence enveloped them for a moment.
            “I am gay.”

Peter watched the change in his sister’s countenance as understanding dawned on her. He had always loved her. But right now, they were in a different situation. His sister now hated him. There was no way to tell her how justified he was in murdering their parents.
            Christine’s mobile phone rang.
            “That’s Samantha calling to tell you that your mother is dead,” Peter said.
            Christine looked puzzled. She clenched her jaw. “You sick pervert.”
            “Answer it.”
            Christine let it ring. Anguish gripped her. “What have you done?”
            “I was just carrying out my revenge. Your father drove me away. Your mother consented to it. She didn’t even call me once. I was as good as dead to them. I was a thorn in their flesh, they said. A disgrace!” His voice went an octave higher. “How would people look at pious, perfect religious leaders, people who were at the frontlines in the fight against homosexuality? How would they think of them having a faggot for a son?
            “At least they had the conscience not to kill their own son, but a stranger got killed in my place. They were too wrapped up in their religious appearances that they never cared for my feelings. They didn’t even care to know why I was living the life I was living. It was all about their image. And they had to protect their image at all costs.”
            His voice became low and guttural. “You don’t know how many times I have dreamt of squeezing the life out of each one of them, watching them beg for it. But I thought better of it. I never wanted to see them again. In my most vulnerable moments, the ones I should have run to for help shunned me. No, they didn’t shun me. They killed me!
            “What was I to do for such people? You don’t know how my anger boiled, seeing Father in the pulpit on Sunday morning. He sounded like the pope himself yet his heart was as black as the devil’s.”
            As Peter was ranting and raving, Christine sat still, in stone silence, with gaped jaw, tears flowing down her cheeks.
            Peter finally dropped into the armchair he had vacated earlier. He buried his head in his hands and wept. “All I wanted was mercy, understanding. Somebody to listen to me.”
            He looked down at the gun that was still dangling in his hands. It looked inviting to him. What was the point of living this life? For the past two years, what drove him was a lust to kill the monsters that had masqueraded as his parents since he was born. Now that he was through with his one goal, why keep around?
            His hand tightened its grip around the gun. The index finger wrapped around the trigger.
            “There is no point in living this life.”

            “No! Don’t!”
            Christine jumped out of her daze and her chair. She could not watch her brother killing himself. Of course he was a killer and he deserved to die. She was angry and sympathetic of him at the same time. But he was the only family she was left with.
            She reached out her hand to stop him.
            “Don’t dare come near,” Peter said. His voice came out in a throaty whisper.
            “You can’t do that, Peter.” Christine took a step closer to him.
            He turned the gun and pointed it at her. “If you try to stop me, I’ll kill you first before I kill myself.”
            Christine froze. What was she to do? She looked around, as if she was searching the room for options. But her mind stayed blank.
            “I’ll say hi to your mother and father in hell,” he said.
            Christine barely heard the words and before she could process them, a shot rang out, rendering her deaf for a few seconds.
            The lifeless body of her brother sat slumped in the chair. The eyes and mouth were wide open as if in surprise. Blood and brain matter were splattered all over the place.
            A gut-wrenching scream rent the night air.

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